Find yourself approaching this year's holidays with a bit of trepidation following a year of covid-induced separation and an atmosphere of anxiety and unrest?
Brittney Schrick, assistant professor and extension family life specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, has a few survival tips.
"Realistic expectations are key for most things in life, and holiday interactions and plans are no exception," she said.
EMOTIONAL LAND MINES
The holidays are laden with potential emotional land mines. There's tension over travel. Whether on the road or in the air, many are traveling for the first time in more than a year. Will the flight be on time? Will traffic be a bear? Did airport security routines change? Covid changed a few things about how we interact too.
Will everyone at the gathering be wearing a mask? And there are the things we worried about before the pandemic: Who was bringing what for the big meal? Did I get the right gift?
"It never hurts to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Especially if flying, prepare for delays and potentially for cancellations," she said. "If you're traveling anywhere with kids, make sure you have realistic expectations of how it will go and prepare with activities, snacks, and plenty of stops."
What about that relative who only wants to talk politics or otherwise stir the pot during gatherings?
"If you know you have a relative with strong political or other views that run counter to yours, don't talk about politics and expect them to suddenly come to your point of view," Schrick said. "Know going in that just because you may not have seen each other in a while doesn't mean the interactions will be any different than they have been in the past."
DEALING WITH ANXIETY
Schrick said patience should take high priority at times like these.
"Be patient with yourself and with those around you," she said. "High anxiety spreads quickly, especially from parents to children."
Schrick suggests taking a deep breath or 10 and try to bring down your anxiety or stress level.
"If you need to, take a break," she said. "Take a walk, go to the grocery store, take a nap, whatever you need to do to recharge."
USE THE ESCAPE HATCH
Sometimes togetherness isn't the answer, Schrick said.
"If you are dealing with toxic or damaging relationships that are more stressful than nourishing, consider skipping out altogether," she said. "That may be difficult, and you may have to field questions, but your mental health and that of your family is important."
For more of Schrick's advice on families, visit her Family Life Fridays Blog.
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact a local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow the agency on Twitter at @AgInArk.
Mary Hightower is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.